Tuesday, May 13, 2008

On Forgiveness

Here's something that I've struggled with off and on throughout my life. Getting to the process of forgiveness is sometimes the most difficult thing I have to do. But here are some thoughts on the matter.

One of the hardest, thorniest and most difficult things we humans are ever called upon to do is to respond to evil with kindness and to forgive the unforgivable. We love to read stories about people who've responded to hatred with love, but when that very thing is demanded of us personally, our default seems to be anger, angst, depression, righteousness, hatred, etc. Yet study after study shows that one of the keys to longevity and good health is to develop a habit of gratitude and let go of past hurts.

Want to live a long, happy life? Forgive the unforgivable. It really is the kindest thing you can do for yourself. Your enemy may not deserve to be forgiven for all the pain and sadness and suffering they've purposefully inflicted on your life, but ''you'' deserve to be free of this evil. As Ann Landers often said, "hate is like an acid. It destroys the vessel in which it is stored."



Realize that the hate you feel toward does not harm them in the slightest. Chances are, they've gone on with their life and haven't given you another thought.

Look at the situation from an eagle's eye.]] Make a list of the good things that happened as a result of this awful experience. You've probably focused long enough on the bad parts of this experience. Look at the problem from a wholly new angle; look at the good side. The first item on that list may be a long time coming because you've focused on the bad for so long, but don't give up. Force yourself to find 10 good things that happened specifically because of this experience.

Look for the helpers. Fred Rogers (Mr. Rogers) related that, as a little boy, he'd often become upset about major catastrophes in the news. His mother would tell him, "look for the helpers." In your own nightmarish experience, think back to the people who helped you. Think about their kindness and unselfishness.

Look at the bigger picture. Was someone your "good Samaritan"? In this biblical story, a traveler happens upon a poor soul who was beat up on the road to Jericho and left for dead. It's a lot easier to play the part of the Good Samaritan than to be the poor soul who is left bleeding and bruised on the side of the road. Perhaps this isn't all about you. Perhaps your trial provided an opportunity for others to rise to an occasion to provide you with help and support.

Be compassionate with yourself. If you've ruminated over this problem for a long time, steering this boat into a new direction could take some time, too. As you try to make a new path out of the dark woods of this old hurt, you'll make mistakes. Forgive yourself. Be patient and kind to yourself. Extreme emotional pain has a profound effect on the body. Give yourself time to heal - physically and emotionally. Eat well. Rest. Focus on the natural beauty in the world.

The Aramaic word for "forgive" means literally to "untie." The fastest way to free yourself from an enemy and all their negativity is to forgive. Loose yourself from them and their ugliness. Your hatred has tied you to them. Your forgiveness enables you to start walking away from them and the pain.

Forgiveness must be unconditional. Therefore, it cannot be dependent upon the repentance of those who have harmed us. However, unless those who have harmed us have truly repented of whatever they have done, we need to use wisdom in avoiding repeating the hurt. This may require avoiding those who are unrepentant of the harm that they have inflicted upon us.

How many times this week did you tell "the story" about how badly you were hurt and how horribly you were wronged? How many times a day do you think about this hurt? Stop telling "the story." It is a stake driven into the ground that keeps you from moving away from this hurt. Rather, forgive your enemy because it's the kindest thing you can do for your friends and family. Negativity is depressing, physically, mentally, spiritually and emotionally.

When your enemy and their evil actions come to mind,send them a blessing. Compliment someone you hate and wish them well. (this may take a LOT of practice and prayer) Hope the best for them. This has two effects. One, it neutralizes that acid of hate that destroys the vessel in which it is stored. The evil we wish for another seems to have a rebound effect. The same is true for the good that we wish for another. When you become able to return blessing for hatred, you'll know that you're well on the path to wholeness. The first 15 or 150 times you try this, the "blessing" may feel contrived, empty, and even hypocritical but keep trying. Eventually, it will become a new habit and soon thereafter, the anger and pain that has burned in your heart will evaporate, like dew before the morning sun.

Remember: you're not the Lone Ranger. One wise African-American preacher said, "I worship a God with holes in his hands and feet." If they did it to innocent Jesus, then how much more to us? And if they wrong you for doing right, then you're really doing what Jesus did. You're in good company, at least!

Maintain perspective. While the "evil" actions of your "enemy" are hurtful to you and your immediate surroundings, the rest of the world goes on unaware. Validate their meaning in your life, but never lose perspective that others are not involved and do not deserve anything to be taken out on them. Your enemy is someone else's beloved son, someone's employee, or a child's parent.

Got any stories of forgiveness? How you made it through? I'd be glad to hear them.

2 comments:

andyzgirl said...

"Stop telling the story" can be one of the most difficult things for me - I LOVE a story...especially if it makes me look good ("put-upon") and shows how "bad" the other person is.
If anything is causing worry or anxiety, let us stop rehearsing the difficulty and trust God for healing, love and power.
- "Review & Herald, October 7, 1865

Anonymous said...

I'll have to keep working on this one. I'm not sure I'm there yet.

Dionne